I have a Great Lakes story for Earth Day, and I bet you do, too. Or at least you have a story of someplace you fell in love with. What’s your story?
We are creatures of stories. Telling them, whether to ourselves or others, is how we make sense of our place in the world. Stories are at the heart of spirituality because they communicate how we are connected to each other and the wider world. That’s why stories make up a large part of spiritual traditions and sacred writings.
Dawn on Lake Michigan (photo by Dan Robinson)
An Odd Place to Fall in Love with the Great Lakes
My Great Lakes story starts over 30 years ago in Kentucky… in a library… I know that sounds odd, but it’s true. I was living in Owensboro, along the Ohio River, and in the town's library I came across William Ashworth’s book, The Late Great Lakes: an Environmental History. For some reason, I was drawn to it, and after reading it, I was drawn to the Great Lakes.
I had only spent a few days around the Lakes at that point, a couple of nights camping along Lake Superior and Lake Huron, as well as a trip to Lake Michigan when I was a baby. (Does that count?!) But when I turned the last page of Ashworth’s book, I knew I wanted to live somewhere near one of the Lakes.
A couple of years later, my family and I moved to Manistee, MI, along Lake Michigan, and living there was everything I imagined. I could feel my spirit breathe in a different and deeper way whenever I was along the shore. That’s still the case, after many years, three different homes, and a lot of other stories in the Great Lakes Basin.
Every story has a beginning, and that’s my Great Lakes story’s beginning. Every story has a middle part, too, where events challenge the main character. For my Great Lakes story, that challenge has been figuring out what I can do to help care for the Lakes and all the life that shares their watersheds.
What’s your Earth Day love story?
So, what’s the story of how you came to be connected to the Lakes or to that place that helps your spirit breathe deeply? What’s the beginning of that tale? What’s the challenge in the middle?
This Earth Day, think about that story, and what you tell yourselves or others about how you’re connected to that place. This annual celebration is about caring for this home that we all share. However, we won’t take care of it if we don’t love it. And it’s hard to love a whole planet, so it makes sense that we focus on that place that we feel most connected to.
If we love that place and all the life that shares it, then we’ll live our lives in a way that takes care of that place and the rest of the planet.
Whose stories do we pay attention to?
Stories are best when they’re shared, whether we’re the teller or the listener. Telling is easy and fun, but listening can sometimes be hard or challenging. When we hear stories that we’re not used to, or that bring up uncomfortable truths, we might stop listening.
In my own spiritual tradition of Christianity, that was the case with Jesus. He was a storyteller, but some people - especially people in authority - often didn't want to hear his stories, where the poor have abundance while the rich walk away empty-handed, and the people experiencing discrimination are the ones doing good, not the religious authorities.
Today, whose stories do we listen to, especially on Earth Day? Are we hearing the stories of people living on low incomes who may not have access to the “up north” experience? Do we know the tales of frontline communities who disproportionately experience the effects of pollution from fossil fuels and climate change? Are we listening to stories that challenge us to do better?
How does this story end?
Every story, of course, has an end, too. How does your Earth Day story end? How would you like it to end? I don’t know how mine ends, but I do know it’s caught up in the ending of all the other stories in the Great Lakes basin. This is our shared home and our shared story, whether it’s a tale about the Great Lakes or the whole Earth. The story we tell ourselves and the other stories we hear will profoundly impact how those tales end.
So, I encourage you to do a couple of things this Earth Day. First, take a few moments to remind yourself of how you fell in love with your special place and why you want to take care of it. Second, think about stories of the people, the water, and all the other life you share that special place with, including the people who aren't able to share that place and that experience.
Sometimes we can get overwhelmed by the struggles we face in caring for this shared home. Remembering and sharing these stories can give us hope and strength for the challenges ahead.